By Tope Olukole
Kunle Ajayi’s success as a musician did not come overnight. He has paid his dues, just as he clocks 55 years this month. A renowned gospel music multi-instrumentalist revealed how his ambition of studying Mechanical Engineering was jettisoned for music.
“I attended Eko Boys High School, Lagos from 1977 to 1982. Going through school was difficult financially and I had to do all sorts of menial Jobs including foraging for metal objects in refuse heaps and selling such after weighing for a pittance. Those who did his menial job were called Alumni boys or Boma boys. In addition to this, I also played and taught music for a fee in various churches. However, I found favour in the sight of most of the teachers and principal. I was in the school choir. I started and led a musical group called Lagos State Chamber Orchestra. The group then was playing classical and contemporary music. We also played personal compositions. I was also in the school choral group as a guitarist. It was in secondary school that I learned that I could study music at the University. Before then, I was more interested in studying mechanical engineering. The revelation that I could study music at the University completely changed my life.
On his greatest influence in the music industry, Pastor Enoch Adejare Adeboye is the greatest influence in my life, during the holidays he usually organized free lessons for all students in the church. He brought in some teachers to come and assist him in some of the subjects. The first musical instrument that I ever owned, a flute, which I play, being self-taught, was given to me by this great man of God. I later learned that his wife, Pastor Folu Adeboye, bought it for me from Kenya. Daddy Adeboye had a special interest in me and did a lot to encourage me.
In those early years, things were not all rosy. Choosing music as a profession was not easy at all. There were people who opposed my going into music. I remember a couple in the church branded me as having a familiar spirit which according to them manifested in my ability to play the guitar and other musical instruments at an early age. This influential and wealthy couple once invited me to their house somewhere on the Mainland area of Lagos. Oblivious of what would happen, I went with my guitar. The rich man’s wife then seized my guitar and broke it into pieces before my very eyes. She also threatened to send her dogs after me if she ever sees me with a guitar again. Unfortunately, then my mother shared the woman’s opinion. She shared the woman’s opinion I suppose because that woman was rich and influential, so it was thought that she could not be wrong. Again, the lack of good role models among Nigerian musicians at the time made her oppose my choosing such as profession. She even went as far as praying to God to stop me from becoming a musician. Musicians at the time were mainly noted for drugs and sex. No born again Christian mother would allow her son to join such people and be wallowing in sin. Even when I attempted to join the choir, I was chased away. However, I stood my ground and with the help of the Almighty God, I triumphed and went into music full time.
At the early stage of my career, I had no musical hero. The artists whose pieces of music were very popular like King Sunny Ade and Fela were not born again Christians and I could not emulate them. As a matter of fact, it was because my mother did not want me to be like Fela that she opposed my choosing music as a career. She dreaded the vices as manifested in sex and drugs. As for King Sunny Ade, I loved his guitar playing and dancing but I could not emulate him. He was not born again then. It was later when I discovered that Pastor Adeboye was a composer of gospel songs and that he even recorded an album that I started to have someone to emulate.
The saxophone with which I am very well identified came in after my healing. From my primary school, I had been diagnosed with having a problem with my lungs. I was taken to so many hospitals for treatment but I did not get any better. Rather, the sickness grew worse. People in the church wondered what was wrong with me. Some wondered why I could not receive my healing in the church. Others queried what I must have done. Thank God my healing came around the time that Pastor Adeboye had a miracle baby. I used their miracle as a point of contact to pray to God for divine healing. I told God that if He heals me, I would play any wind instrument to the glory of His name. In order to pay my vow, I picked up the recorder that daddy gave me and I used it to teach myself the saxophone and other wind instruments. It is in paying my vow to the Lord and in the worship of the Almighty.
Kunle Ajayi presently has about twenty long-playing record albums in both the international and local markets. He spoke further about his career. “My first recording was done at Afrodisia Recording studio in 1983 and it was released into the music market in 1984. The aim of the record was not really to make money but to pass on the message I had to the public and to express God’s goodness in my life. Putting the album together was a great experience. Then one had to play all the musical instruments with proficiency. There should be no mistakes. Any mistake by any of the musicians meant that the particular track being recorded would be replayed and this was very cumbersome and could be a drain on the musician’s pocket.
Before playing instrumental music I used to combine singing with playing musical instruments. However, the commission God gave to me was to minister to the world in playing musical instruments, not in singing. Actually, I saw myself in a vision. There I was ministering with people of different colours and we were all playing instrumental music. We did not sing. It was instrumental. Then as I looked through the Bible I came to know that when the evil spirit was tormenting King Saul, those attending to him looked for someone who was prudent in playing a musical instrument. Again when a prophet of old wanted to prophesy, he asked for someone who was skilful in playing the instrument, not in singing. The Holy Spirit ministered to me that whenever I play, his presence would be there. Initially, I was trying to mix both singing and playing together. It is not that it was wrong for me to sing but what I saw was that I was playing instrumentally.s
Apart from recording and playing in churches and crusades, what else is Kunle Ajayi is in to. “We started the entertainment and ministration programs Known as Jazz for Christ. This was the first time that we took our gospel and Jazz music out of the church environment and direct to a relaxed, non-religious and commercial atmosphere. They were very successful outings. Public response was good. Conservative Christians then, however, did not believe that Christians should get involved in such a program. For the first one, I flew in from Germany to stage it at the MUSON Center, Onikan, Lagos. There was a repeat of the show by popular demand at Lagbaja’s Motherland in Opebi, Lagos. The shows stopped because of the demand and attention to be paid to other things of God, which are also very important. However, I am praying for time to create something like that again.